In 1921, Giovanni Alessi and his brother founded Fratelli Alessi Omegna - FAO, a “Workshop for processing brass and nickel silver sheet, with a foundry”. FAO’s first production was inspired by the dictates of the most prestigious manufacturers of objects for the home of the early 20th century, particularly those from Austria and England. Giovanni was obsessed with quality and skilled craftsmanship: his products made of copper, brass and nickel silver, which were subsequently plated with nickel, chrome or silver, became immediately renowned for their meticulous crafting and perfect finish.
After the War, the company gradually abandoned the use of soft metals in the '50s, replacing them with stainless steel, transforming production from artisan to industrial. A sign of change with a new name: ALFRA (ALessi FRAtelli). During these years, the company specialised in the production of objects for professional use (for hotels, restaurants, bars, etc.). Ettore Alessi, who had joined the company in 1945, became head of the Engineering Department, consolidating its design identity: it was at this time that certain “industrial types” of product like baskets and fruit bowls made of steel wire were created. Led by him, ALFRA also began working in partnership with independent designers.
In 1970, Alberto Alessi, the founder’s grandson, joined the company. A collection of trays and baskets designed by the Exhibition Design group, a modular table service system conceived by Franco Sargiani and Ejia Helander, and Alessi d’Après, were the first designs he developed. Alessi d’Après was a research operation for the production of “art multiples” which involved, along with others, Salvador Dalì: a clear declaration of Alberto’s desire to produce objects which were not only functional, but also capable of satisfying people’s need for art and poetry. In the ‘70s, after these initial projects, partnerships with Ettore Sottsass, Richard Sapper, Achille Castiglioni and Alessandro Mendini contributed to transforming the company into the Factory of Design imagined by Alberto.
Alessi’s research over the past decade has developed between two points, defined by Alessandro Mendini as “ethical” and “radical”. “Ethical”, considered as a leaning towards a new simplicity, and an austere kind of design. “Radical”, on the other hand, indicates the search for strongly expressive and decorative forms. Designs with a “radical” imprint (by Mendini or Marcel Wanders, for instance) and those with an ethical tendency (such as those of Naoto Fukasawa or David Chipperfield), can be read according to this dichotomy, despite the diversity of their languages inviting us to reflect on the relativity of this classification. The distinction between “ethical” and “radical” is a partial attempt to try and define the much more complex reality of design as an artistic and poetic creative discipline.
With a special exhibition at the Salone del Mobile and 12 new projects, Alessi celebrates one hundred years of research in the field of the applied arts and the beginning of a new century of experimentation.